Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Pt.1: Reports of Kurdistan's Death are Greatly Exaggerated: Intra Kurdish Conflict

 Intra Kurdish divisions, and there are many, need to be stated and understood before one can comprehend the partner post, forthcoming.

 Atlantic Council
In the wake of the September 25 referendum in Kurdistan, the Iraqi government announced on October 15 that it began a military deployment to reestablish authority in Kirkuk in coordination with the Peshmerga. It soon became clear that the Peshmerga mentioned belonged to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)—specifically, the Talabani family wingwhich views aggressive moves toward independence with far more skepticism than its political rivals in the Kurdistan Regional Government dominated by Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The PUK drew the ire of fellow Kurds who viewed the deal as facilitating the federal forces’ reclamation of the territory. To complicate matters further, some reports indicated that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) Quds Force leader Qassim Suleimani appears to have played a role in convincing the Talabani family to broker the deal in the absence of any other international or regional mediator. These events highlight the depth of intra-Kurdish divisions at a time of rapidly rising tensions.
I personally do not believe "reports" about the involvement of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.Of course, it's possible I'm mistaken, but, for now... what is reported and what is fact do not always align

They have denied involvement.- No Iranian Military Role in Kirkuk Operation 
 "A senior official said Iran's military has played no role in the ongoing Iraqi operation to take back northern territories under Kurdish control, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk on Monday.
"The IRGC played no role in the Kirkuk operation," ISNA quoted Ali Akbar Velayati as saying on Tuesday"
 Additionally it is reported the US is being "neutral" on this situation, despite the reports of Iranian involvement another claim I emphatically do not believe

I cannot hold these two  extremely contradictory claims together - Iran involved/US neutral- as truth.  It is not plausible that the US would be unconcerned about Iranian involvement in the area of Kirkuk- When one thinks about every other contentious issue in the region- most of it revolving around Iranian influence, Iran involved/US neutral, is hard to swallow.
For goodness sakes wasn't Trump just talking about sanctioning the IRGC

Flashback: The US Cannot Go It Alone on Iran- Richard Haas

"Trump announced his intention to place extra sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps."

Back to Atlantic Council
The tension stems in part from the Kurdish government’s use of the referendum and the northern Iraqi oil resources as political leverage. Both the Goran movement—another rival Kurdish faction—and the PUK saw the referendum as an attempt by Barzani and his son Masrour to reassert their leadership and re-legitimize KDP authority, even in areas outside of its traditional base. The PUK, which views Kirkuk as part of its base, is unhappy with the arrangements that govern oil exports from Kirkuk’s main fields and channel the revenue through the KDP-controlled government because it places the group at a disadvantageous position. The KDP’s decision in March 2017 to increase its troops in the important Bai Hassan oil field after PUK-affiliated armed men temporarily occupied the North Oil Company’s headquarters, reinforced the view that the KDP was dipping its toes in the PUK’s backyard.
The PUK which is a rival Kurdish group to KDP sees Kirkuk as their base. This is more of the very usual inter Kurdish division- The Kurds have never been a unified lot- The 5 eyes media, alt and main stream don't want this widely known.
The Talabani-aligned PUK suffered another blow at the hands of Kirkuk governor Najm Addin Karim, who was dismissed by the Iraqi government on September 14 in the days leading up to the vote. Karim had become less reliant on the PUK and unilaterally voiced his enthusiastic support for the referendum. This move sparked further division as some PUK factions aligned themselves with KDP’s vision for the region and threatened the Talabani wing’s political relevance.

Are the divisions becoming clear yet? What went on in Kirkuk was/is a struggle for power/ broader control via resource/territorial control.  In the 2nd part of this post there will be relinks to previous reports covering the very subject of Intra Kurdish divisions- Yes, I've written about this all before.
The Iraqi government and Iran’s response to the referendum also fueled intra-Kurdish tension by increasing the pressure on the PUK to distance itself from the KDP. As Iran halted the fuel exports and closed its official border crossings with Kurdistan, it dealt a serious economic blow to the PUK and its base in Sulaymaniya. With most oil revenue going to the KRG, continued economic sanctions by Baghdad and Tehran could significantly undermine the PUK’s already shrinking revenue stream. The Talabani clan had to choose one of two evils: either succumb to the KDP’s domination or make a deal with Baghdad. To protect what political relevance it still has, it seems to have opted for the latter for now.
 Kirkuk came down to a power struggle between two Kurdish factions. With the PUK/Talabani clan opting for what they considered the lesser of two evils, for now, an alliance with Baghdad.
Only for the time being!

So what’s next?

It is unclear whether there is a detailed agreement between the PUK and Iraqi government. Although the Goran published a supposed agreement signed by Bafel Talabani and Hadi al-Amiri, the leading member in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and the Head of Badr Organization, it has not yet been independently confirmed. There are other unconfirmed reports indicating that Bafel Talbani met Abadi in Baghdad the day before the beginning of military redeployment. Regardless, one can safely argue that Baghdad and IRGC-backed groups would support the Talabani family in its attempt to restore control over the PUK as a reward for its cooperation. This support likely includes giving the Talabani-led PUK the right to choose a new governor for Kirkuk and reinstating federal government salary payments to public servants in Suleimaniya. As the Iraqi government restores control over oil from Kirkuk and its revenue, it would also boost the PUK’s leverage vis-à-vis the KDP.

This realignment, however, will only deepen the rift between the PUK and the KDP’s geographic realms (Duhok and Erbil in the case of KDP, Suleimaniya and Kirkuk in the case of PUK). This week’s dramatic events could even throw the KRG into an existential crisis of its own, as some commentators began talking about forming a separate region in Suleimaniya and Halabja. While Erbil consistently pursued its independence from Baghdad over the past few years, Suleimaniya looked more toward independence from Erbil. Although Kurdish nationalism will continue to be a unifying ideology, the failure to build unified institutions that overcome personal, familial, and regional rivalries has impeded its work.

Nonetheless, Baghdad-PUK coordination does not explain the KDP Peshmerga’s withdrawal from Kirkuk and other disputed territories. *The KDP may have felt surprised or betrayed by PUK Peshmerga and would not risk a fight in such an exposed position. "Or perhaps the new generation of Peshmerga, raised in autonomous Kurdistan and having never experienced the guerrilla war against Baghdad, felt ill-prepared for confrontation. Corruption and salary delays have also reportedly affected the Peshmerga’s military capabilities and morale. But the most likely explanation lies in the KDP’s political miscalculation when it unilaterally insisted on holding the referendum, thereby losing US support and that of its key regional backer, Turkey. Without international backing, the KRG could face an impossible uphill battle.
Let's entertain another thought regarding the Peshmerga backed by the KDP . Hoping people realize the Peshmerga are less like a national army and more like militias? (despite the spin)
The author of the oped from the Atlantic Council raising two issues (*)- I'll raise a third. 
The KDP peshmerga is infiltrated with PKK loyalists. Very possible. In fact, highly probable!

Taking the idea of infiltration even further, it is entirely realistic that the PKK has been groomed by the US as a kind of a control both sides of the 'fight' to keep Barzani's powers in check

To make this point hit home I draw your attention to an article from 2008:Michael Rubin- Is Iraqi Kurdistan a Good Ally - It should be read entirely, but, for this post we'll look at just one paragraph
Michael Rubin: It is in this context that Barzani's relations with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) become so problematic. Barzani may be a nationalist, but he is also a realist. He dislikes a powerful PKK, not because its terrorism sullies the Kurdish nationalist cause but because it provides an alternative.
  Abdullah Öcalan, the group's leader, sought primacy over his Iraqi Kurdish competitors. "Barzani and Talabani are like feet or arms, but I am the main head or mind," Öcalan explained in a 1998 interview.25
Does anyone, of sound mind, believe this alternative to the PDK was not recognized by both the US/ Israel and intentionally cultivated? Groomed? Encouraged? Does anyone believe the influence Ocalan wields over many thousands of militant and criminal kurds was overlooked by the US and Israel? Is it inconceivable to therefore believe that Barzani is the only game in town?!

Finally ending with the Atlantic Council

What comes next depends on how Baghdad manages its easy victory. Iraq’s hardliners might push for further measures to weaken Barzani and besiege the KDP in its traditional domain. The Dawa block in the Iraqi parliament, the wing close to former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, adopted triumphalist language and called for further action to punish Barzani and the “separatists.” Current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who enjoys a political boost in the wake of reclaiming Kirkuk, might also try to end what Baghdad viewed as unconstitutional arrangements adopted by the KRG—not only in the disputed territories, but even in formally recognized territory. However, Abadi’s long-term success will depend on his ability to prevent another victimhood narrative that will feed Kurdish grievances. The KDP leadership’s miscalculations and accusations of PUK betrayal could further weaken those established groups. More radical groups, such as the PKK or even the Salafi movement in the region, could fill the resulting vacuum which in turn could spark further instability by pointing the finger at the Shia-dominated PMF and its Iranian backers.
Ah those victimhood narratives...... 
And, just how often have I mentioned that the salafi movement is just full of Kurds? Brutal, murderous kurds...?

While Abadi has successfully (and largely unexpectedly) returned the balance of power in favor of the federal government, he needs to give Erbil an exit from this self-inflicted wound. A lot depends on the KDP’s ability to recognize its miscalculations and take responsibility for them, but Baghdad must resist the temptation to take all the spoils of victory. In Abadi’s quest to restore state authority, he must deal with Shia hardliners and IRGC-backed militias; for that, he will need an open door with Erbil.

News of the Death of Kurdistan is Greatly Exaggerated 
Barzani eggs fill just one of several egg baskets

Stay tuned for Part 2

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